Introduction: How to Practice Scales and Arpeggios Effectively
Mastering our scales and arpeggios will make us a lot better at playing the piano. All music is based on scales; even arpeggios are. <---They are, simply put, broken up chords which are made up of notes from a scale!
This lesson lays out the best path for you to take so that you can learn not just a few but all of your scales and arpeggios easily; with steady effort and a good metronome. :)
Read through everything here first and think about this process before you sit down and try it at your piano.
When you feel that you understand the routine that I give you here, then get to your keyboard and go through the video at the end to reinforce what you have in your head. We always have to get what's in our head into our fingers!
The first thing we're going to talk about is scales and the best way to learn and practice them.
Step 1: How to Learn and Practice Your Scales
We always start with scales before learning arpeggios.
And the first scale that we learn on the piano, is C Major. There's a reason for that!
C major is at the top of what is called the Circle of Fifths. The Circle of Fifths charts out our Major and Minor Keys in order of how many sharps or flats they have in them.
- C Major has no sharps or flats in it. If you continue moving, either way, you'll notice that the listed sharps and flats increase by one with each note name. G major has 1 sharp in it and F major has 1 flat in it, and that continues all the way through both the flats and the sharps.
The best way to learn and practice your scales is by following the Circle of Fifths.
- Learn your sharp keys first and then learn your flat keys.
Next, you want to start by playing each scale in one octave and then increase to two octaves, then three, and finally four octaves.
- Take time to do this and add in octaves only when you're sure of your notes and fingerings in each octave that you add in.
Don't forget about your Minor Scales.
- The minor scales are listed in the Circle of Fifths as well and are located on the inside of the circle. The key signature of the minor scale will be the same as the major scale that is listed above it in a capital letter. Focus on your Harmonic Minor Scale first.
The next step in really mastering all of your scales is to play them in a chromatic sequence.
- This simply means that you would start with C major first, then play C# Major, then D Major, and then D# Major; going all the way up through the octave like this. Remember that before you can do this you really need to have learned all of your scales first, so this will test that knowledge and also make you use it in a different way. *I play samples of this in the video at the end of this lesson*
The final way you want to practice your scales is changing the rhythmic values of your notes as you add in octaves. The basic formula is this:
- Play the first octave with quarter notes, then play 2 octaves in eighth notes, next play 3 octaves in triplets, and finally play all 4 octaves in sixteenth notes. Again, I play a C Major scale this way in the video so you can see how this works out on the keyboard.
Now let's look at arpeggios and the best way to learn and play them.
Step 2: How to Learn and Practice Arpeggios
We covered a lot in the last step about how to learn and practice scales. Go through that step several times because we're going to apply the same process to our arpeggios, so that knowledge will be really helpful to you when you move on to this step.
Just like our scales, we're going to learn our arpeggios by following this route:
- One octave at a time; moving your way up to 4 octaves. And if you need to at first, don't hesitate to play them one hand at a time just until you get all the notes and fingerings learned. Go slowly!
- Start by learning your white key major and minor triads first. (C, F, & G) They are the easiest. Then move up to the chords with flats in them. Follow the same route that you did with your scales by going in consecutive order of the Circle of Fifths.
- Make your way through all of the Major and Minor arpeggios as you do with your scales.
- Practice your arpeggios in quarter notes for 1 octave, eighth notes for 2 octaves, triplets for 3 octaves and finally sixteenth notes for 4 octaves.
You can see that once you've gotten your Scale routine down, you don't have to learn a new method for learning your arpeggios...you simply apply the same methods to them and you can even start practicing the arpeggio for each scale that you work on in the same session.
Let's do a quick review of this routine since you use it for both your scales and arpeggios before we move on to practicing them at the piano.
Step 3: Here's Your Practice Routine
- Practice all Major Scales up to 4 octaves
- Move up chromatically to the next scale that you play
- Repeat these steps for all of your minor scales
- Practice them with matching note rhythmic values to the number of octaves that you are playing.
- Quarter note = 1 octave
- Eighth note = 2 octaves
- Triplets = 3 octaves
- Sixteenth notes = 4 octaves
Do the exact same process for your arpeggios.
Now let's look at some special tips that can help you along the way!
Step 4: Special Tips for Playing Scales and Arpeggios
- Make sure to write down any scales and/or arpeggios that you had trouble with, in your practice session and start with those first off the next time you work on them. Then go to the easier ones.
- If you want to get faster at playing your scales and arpeggios try using a metronome while you practice them. Set your metronome at a slower comfortable speed to start with and then increase your tempo by 2-3 notches each time on your metronome. Doing this regularly will help your fingers get used to playing the correct notes faster and faster with ease.
- When you start to play more than one octave for your arpeggios, try changing your fingering between octaves so you can crossover your fingers easier. Also, play one hand at a time so you can learn the notes separately. Then put both hands together. I show you a sample fingering in the video at the end of this lesson.
- If you're having trouble playing any scale or arpeggio at a certain tempo, especially more than one octave, simply slow down to a tempo that you can play it at, even if it is really slow. Once you find that tempo that you can manage, you're set to just start moving up with the metronome bit by bit until your fingers are trained enough to play the right notes. Be patient!
Now that you know the best routine to incorporate to learn your scales and arpeggios it's time to practice some examples with me at the piano. Ready to practice with me?
Step 5: Come Practice With Me!
This video lesson goes over everything we've discussed here but we're at the keyboard so you can practice these concepts with me.
We'll play through 1-4 octave scales and arpeggios, I'll show you how to change your fingerings when you go from one octave to the next, and I'll also show you some other videos lessons that will help you with things like playing easier with both hands, which is one challenge that beginning pianists face when starting to learn scales and arpeggios.
Come back to this video lesson anytime you need to get help with learning and playing your scales and arpeggios. Mastering these will enable you to play anything you encounter in your piano music and you'll also be able to improvise much easier!